By SANDRA MWILA in Johannesburg –
ZESCO United face South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs in the return leg of the CAF Confederation Cup pre-group play-off at the FNB Stadium looking for better returns that they earned on previous sorties into this soccer-crazy nation.
With a 3-1 lead from last weekend’s clash in Ndola, Zesco could not be in a better place to achieve a result that would seen ‘Chicken’ George Lwandamina finally exorcise the ghost that has haunted him the last two times he has led the Zambian champions here.
Apart from the 3-1 advantage from the Levy Mwanawasa meeting last weekend, Zesco face a Chiefs side that has been slogging its way through a heavy fixture congestion that has seen them play five games in the 11 days. Tonight’s clash, kicking off at 20:00 hours will be their sixth game in 15 days.
Chiefs must also live without their most dependable player in goalkeeper and captain goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune who has been ruled out injured for the rest of the season.
And his replacement, the Namibian international Virgil Vries, has had a run to forget as he has been shipping goals, keeping only one clean sheet in the four games he has featured in.
That is more Chiefs’ concern than Zesco and Lwandamina will have been focusing on how to defend the goal advantage the team carries into the game, while looking for the opportunity to add to Chiefs woes should the opportunity present itself.
All Zesco has to do is avoid a defeat of at least two goals to progress but at the back of their mind is the haunting fact that they have not won a CAF match in South Africa in their last two encounters against Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport.
“It won’t be an easy game. We have done our homework and it is now up to the boys to deliver but they have to know it won’t be easy,” Lwandamina said.
He added that Chiefs would be a tough opponent especially that unlike Zesco whose domestic season is still on recess, their opponents have been active for months and are a more cohesive unit.
Chiefs warmed up for this clash with a 3-2 away win against Amazulu to consolidate fifth position on the South African premiership table.
Zesco captain Jacob Banda is not worried about the team’s winless streak in South Africa and is confident that could end tonight.
Striker Lazarous Kambole said although there was need to avoid conceding, working for an early away goal would be crucial tonight and could decide the tie.
Interestingly, Kaiser Chiefs has never qualified for the group stages of any CAF competition and they will be aiming to make history tonight, with Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp hoping that the home fans can create an atmosphere to inspire a successful comeback.
Chiefs’ German coach complained about the congested fixture saying; “This is mid-January and we have only had two proper training sessions this year. At the moment, we are missing out on quality training sessions. That’s a little bit of what we need to do now, to sharpen some of the areas we need to improve on.”
But he will count on danger-man Khama Billiat remains Chiefs trump card is available and will look to score again after getting Chiefs’ only goal in Ndola.
Willard Katsane will captain the home side and he will look to boss the midfield together with Hendrick Ekstein . Upfront, danger lurks for Zesco in Ryan Moon and Leonardo Castro.
Lwandamina is likely to use same team that won the first with the only change being in the central defence where Marcel Kalonda will return from suspension to replace Anthony Akumu who will be deployed to his natural midfield role while Misheck Chaila could be rested.
Kambole and Jesse Were will aim to continue with impressive goal scoring exploits in the competition.